Regardless if you’re preparing to give birth to your first or fifth, having a child marks a monumental moment in time for all those involved, especially mom. And, the mental, physical, and emotional prep-work that giving birth entails can be both overwhelming and exhausting. Many times, it’s difficult to know where to begin at all. Once you’ve moved past what books to read and what crib to purchase, it’s important for expectant mothers to check in with themselves to ensure that they’re ready—mind, body, and soul—for their newest addition. Below, psychologist and mama Katie Penry provides a handful of helpful tips for soon-to-be mamas to get their heart and mind ready for baby. -JKM
The first twelve months of a child’s life are a kind of Normandy Beach for many mothers. Having stormed the sandy way of boob-biting, vagina-recovery, sleeplessness, and diaper-laundry, mothers are often compelled to tell their tale and rejoice in their triumph. Thriving (or even just surviving) during the first year as a new parent is an important accomplishment. A mother’s story-telling and advice-giving impulse is understandable (even when it is barely tolerable). That said, no woman in the history of mothering has ever entered a delivery room begging and bartering for just one more piece of parenting advice from a grocery store stranger. “If only one more person had bequeathed me an advisory story about their own birth experience from the next toilet at Trader Joe’s, then I would actually be ready for this baby.” In the vast landscape of our species, those words have never once been spoken. And still, readiness for baby is as elusive as it is desired. Despite all the advice and the endless stream of mom-blogs, baby books, and hospital pamphlets, many women spend the months before birth feeling overwhelmed, over-informed, and somehow, underprepared.
A huge part of the problem is that the “readiness” being sold to our new and expecting parents is incomplete and misleading. First, getting ready to welcome an entirely new human into your home and heart is no small and easy thing. It is pretty tough. Second, “readiness” isn’t knowing it all, having all the right things, or always feeling completely calm and confident. Despite its portrayal, readiness for baby is less a feeling, and more an accomplishment. It is having the support, skills, and resources in place, so that you can persevere, find help, meet your baby’s needs, and enjoy your time as a new mother. Finally, if the expectation that being “fully prepared for baby” excludes big surprises, brief moments of self-doubt, and periods of learning and adjustment, then “fully prepared for baby” is nothing more than a dangerous rumor.
All that said, have no fear. Here are a few excellent ways to dig into true readiness—the kind that forges a way into your heart and your mind, and not just your home:
Buy a ton of stuff (just kidding!)
Even though nesting is a powerful and important stage for many expecting parents, readiness is much more than a crib, some diapers, and a boatload of precious onesies. Today’s mother is bombarded with so much visual media that the confident calm before the babystorm can seem elusive because so many mothers are told that readiness is as easy as a coat of paint and a Pinterest-worthy baby shower. Remember that each beautiful nursery should ultimately be a physical manifestation of a much less glamorous, internal transformation of that woman’s heart-space.
Research tells us that a woman’s expectations before birth can either fortify her or make her vulnerable to postpartum depression and attachment difficulties. Too often, women keep a locket of unconscious expectations about their baby, their birth experience, or their intuition and ability. When these expectations are unexpressed and unmet, they can rise to the surface as a kind of painful, confusing, unrealized grief. A mother can begin the work of exploring expectations by sharing her hopes and assumptions about the way that the baby will change her relationships, work, and finances. It is also wise to consider the possible medical difficulties, attachment hiccups, or even surprises about the baby’s appearance.
Research has made it clear that connection and relationships are powerful protective factors for postnatal women. Securing the health of close relationships can make a positive impact on the mood and resilience of a new mother. Expecting parents can prepare their relationship by discussing their shared expectations about caregiving roles, sex, finances, and any changes they think might occur (or not). It is also helpful to clarify in advance the effective ways each parent asks for help and the ways they each enjoy being supported.
A new mother doesn’t need to drown herself in books, blogs, and classes. However, having a firm foundation of skills in soothing, burping, swaddling, or feeding will help her power through distressing or difficult moments. Most hospitals offer a course or two about these baby basics. Learning the basics of child development or powerful play can also help mothers feel less anxious. It allows them to be more involved in their child’s fun moments of growth. Finally, knowing the basics about infant sleep can prevent ongoing sleep, mood, and even developmental problems.
Create a self-care plan
If books are nice and a new rocking chair is fun, then a self-care plan is imperative. So many mothers meticulously craft their birth plan to ensure the baby gets here in optimal health, but they fail to craft a self-care plan that will ensure the safety and well-being of themselves and baby after birth. All new parents feel stress. The problem with critical stress—and postpartum depression in particular—is that it is difficult to know that you need help until you find yourself feeling like you’re on the far side of a vast chasm of impossibility and hopelessness. Mothers can protect themselves from the painful withdrawal of depressive symptoms and the occasional aggression of toxic stress by knowing the symptoms of depression, understanding their own stress responses, and contracting with others to help in times of need.
No matter how difficult or easy it has been for a family to get into the baby business, transitioning into motherhood is a real challenge. Depending on her own temperament, every woman will approach the moment that she welcomes her baby differently, but calming, self-assured readiness doesn’t have to be so elusive. The trick is to have reasonable expectations of “readiness,” and move beyond simply preparing the home. A supported exploration of self and an intentional requisition of knowledge are vital. True readiness must extend beyond the fun and joy of nursery decor, baby showers, and clothes. True readiness must reach into the heart and stalwart the mind. Birth, baby, and parenting are unpredictable, but a woman can prepare herself for curveballs, increase her chances at resilience, and empower herself with confidence during uncertain times.
Looking for even more ways to get prepped for baby? Want to hear from other moms about birth expectations? Be sure to check out Baby’s First Weeks, Mindful Pregnancy Tips, and Mom Talk: A Breech Story.
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